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Saturday, 31 August, 2002, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Iraq issue 'must be tackled'
Tony Blair
Tony Blair says no decisions have been taken
The world cannot stand by while Iraq is in "flagrant breach" of United Nations resolutions, the UK prime minister has said.

Tony Blair insisted no decisions on how to tackle Saddam Hussein's regime had been taken.

But he pointed to Kosovo and Afghanistan as models where Britain and America had acted "in a calm and measured and sensible way with the broadest possible international support".

Doing nothing... is not an option

Tony Blair
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to discuss the issue with his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld in Washington in September, it emerged on Saturday.

As well as a lack of international support for action against Iraq, there has been growing opposition from British MPs.

Former deputy leader of the Labour Party Lord Healey went as far as warning that the prime minister risked losing the leadership of the party if he supported a US attack.

'No change'

But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said Parliament would be recalled if the cabinet made any decision about supporting US military action.

He added Britain would only get involved if the conflict did not breach international law.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein remains defiant
Mr Blair made his first public comments on the issue while speaking to reporters travelling with him to Mozambique on the first leg of a three-day African trip ending at the World Development Summit in Johannesburg on Monday.

"Nothing has changed over the past few weeks. Nothing has changed and my views have not changed one jot or iota," he said.

"The issue of weapons of mass destruction is an issue where the world cannot stand by and allow Iraq to be in flagrant breach of all the United Nations resolutions.

"Doing nothing about Iraq's breach of these UN resolutions is not an option.

"That's the only decision that's been taken so far. What we do about that is an open question."

EU demand

Mr Blair said he would answer questions on Iraq at length next Tuesday when he held the third of his televised press conferences in his Sedgefield constituency.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Saturday that Mr Hoon will spend six days in Washington around the first anniversary of the 11 September terror attacks.

A spokesman said Mr Hoon and Mr Rumsfeld - who is a keen supporter of military action to topple Saddam Hussein - would discuss "matters of mutual interest".
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon will meet Mr Rumsfeld in Washington

He refused to confirm a report in the Observer saying Mr Hoon would detail what British assistance could be available to a US attack.

Meanwhile European Union foreign ministers meeting in Denmark have agreed that Iraq must "immediately" allow UN weapons inspectors back into country to ascertain whether there are weapons of mass destruction or not.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, speaking on behalf of his EU counterparts, said the ministers did not want to take a collective position on any eventual military offensive.

Mr Straw, attending the meeting, insisted the UK Parliament would be properly consulted about any military action.

If this persists sooner or later Britain may have to choose between the US and the UN

Menzies Campbell
Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesman

He added: "I do not believe for a moment that decisions on military action in any event are imminent."

And Mr Straw stressed that even if the inspectors were readmitted, the threat of military action had to remain to ensure that Saddam allowed them the freedom to do their job effectively.

US President George Bush has vowed to topple Saddam Hussein.

Iraq remains defiant, warning the US that its efforts to unite opposition forces and depose its president will fail.

James Robbins reports
"On the plane, Tony Blair told reporters that doing nothing was not an option"
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"If you judge people by their actions, George Bush has acted patiently"

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